The Toyota MR2 comes from a time when cars were a lot simpler. A time when cars were not just a big computer. Back then, cars were supposed to make you feel connected to the road, even scare you a bit when you pushed them to their limits, and the MR2 was one of the best examples of that.
Initially, this two-seater sports car wasn’t intended to be a sports car at all. Toyota wanted the MR2 to be a car that would be fun to drive yet still be kind to you at the pump. While it did do that, people started to recognize it as a true sports car thanks to its compact size and rear-engine, RWD design.
Around the same time, many other manufacturers had similar models, so Toyota had plenty of competition. Models such as Honda CR-X, VW Scirocco, Pontiac Fiero, and so on gave the MR2 a run for its money. What the other guys didn’t have was the superb handling and near perfect weight distribution, plus it looked a lot better than its rivals.
The MR2 was only around for three generations and it will go down in history as one of the best and most enjoyable cars to drive of all time. It’s no wonder that some people call it the poor man’s Ferrari. We have created an in-depth buyer’s guide that outlines everything there is to know about the Toyota MR2 so that you can get a better idea if this is the right car for you.
Pros and Cons
- Legendary Toyota reliability
- Incredibly fun to drive
- Unique looks
- Kids think it’s a Ferrari
- Puts a smile on your face every time you drive it
- It came with optional T-tops
- N/A models were quite slow
- Shops that don’t specialize in Japanese cars won’t generally touch them
- Winder driving can be treacherous
- It only has two seats
- Hard to find a stock example
- Not made for tall people
- Weak suspension components
As with any car, especially older models, they come with their own set of issues, and the MR2 was not immune to that. Whether it had had defects from the factory or just time related issues. This section is dedicated to going over the most common issues you are likely to find when looking at an MR2.
As with most older Toyotas, the MR2 suffers from rust issues in the usual spots such as wheel arches, bottom of the doors, sills, etc. This can drastically depend from one car to another. If the previous owner took good care of the car, you could be in the clear.
If you get the T-top model, be sure to check for cracked weather stripping and signs of moisture behind the seats and under the carpet. Again, this could drastically vary from car to car.
Although the turbo model had more power, it was more susceptible to issues such as turbo failure. This can be an added cost over the N/A model but trust us when we say that its worth it.
Another widely reported problem is the pre-cat failure. Chances are that you will not find a car with the original part in place, if any cat at all, but if you do its best that you take them out for piece of mind.
Timing chain tensioner on the 3rd generation seems to be another issue commonly reported by MR2 owners. If this part fails, you can say goodbye to your engine. We highly suggest you replace the tensioner right when you get the car so that you won’t have to shell out the extra money for a new engine.
After these cars passed the 10-year mark, many owners experienced “sticky” brakes. Common indications of this happening are that you are going through brake pads sooner than normal or in the worst-case scenario, your brakes seize up completely. The good news is that this can be easily remedied by completely cleaning and greasing the sliders or just simply buying new ones.
As the MR2 is staring to get rarer and rarer, the asking price has steadily increased for them in the past few years. While pristine models can fetch upwards of $17,000, you can still find some models for as little as $7,000. Here is a list of the cheapest and most expensive models currently available on JDMBuySell.com.
As you can see, the second generation MR2’s are the most common and sought-after models. They look the most modern and have since stood the test of time as being some of the best driver’s car ever made.
In the world of budget, two-seater, mid-engine cars from the past 30 years, the Toyota MR2 was king. However, if you are not completely sold on it yet, we have compiled a list of other MR2 alternatives for you to browse over.
- Honda CR-X
- Mazda Roadster/Miata
- BMW Z3
- Honda S2000 (Read our Honda S2000 Buying Guide)
- Porsche Boxster
- Audi TT
- Fiat Barchetta
- Mercedes-Benz SLK
- Suzuki Cappuccino (Read our Suzuki Cappuccino Buying Guide)
Models and Specifications
First Generation (W10, 1984-1989)
Debuting in 1984, the MR2 came with either a 1.5L or 1.6L naturally aspirated engine, which was on par with Toyota’s fun and economical sports car model. Its great handling was made possible with the collaboration of Lotus engineer Roger Becker. Weighing in at approximately 2,000 lbs. made it possible to achieve a 0-60 time of 8.5-9 seconds even though the car only had 112 and 128 horsepower, depending on where it was sold.
1986 was the year that Toyota introduced a supercharged MR2, bumping up the power to a respectable 145hp. In addition to that, the automaker also beefed up the transmission to be able to take the added horsepower, which in turn made the car now weigh around 2,500 lbs.
Second Generation (W20, 1989-1999)
This generation was the one to give the MR2 the “baby Ferrari” moniker. Additionally, the second gen was also 350-400 lbs heavier than its predecessor thanks in part to a roomier and more luxurious cabin. Luckily, this was offset by the introduction of several 2.0L engine variations.
The facelift version of the second generation took place in January of 1992 and once again in June of 1996. Improvements such as larger wheels and tires, suspension upgrades different taillights and revised rear wind all added up to make the second generation MR2 the icon it is today.
Third Generation (W30, 199-2007)
By this time, Toyota tried to have one last hoorah in a last-ditch effort to keep the flame alive for the mighty MR2, but sadly it was too late. The success from past generations was never matched. The new generation was slightly bigger, wider and heavier than past models. In addition to that, there was only one engine choice offered. That was the 1.8L ZZW30 that produced 138hp and 126 lb. ft. of torque.
The most noticeable change from previous models was that the MR2 was now offered only as a convertible, but over the years few changes such as 16” wheels, new springs and dampers, 6-cd in-dash CD player, and so on were added as time went on.
2005 was the very last year the mighty little cars were sold in the US, while Japan, Mexico, and Europe continued selling them until July 2007. The MR2 is still relevant to this day thanks to popular video games and Manga and Anime featuring the car.
Of course! It’s a Toyota.
Yes. The Toyota MR2 was sold in several LHD countries, including the US.
Because the MR2 is a small, rear-engine car, it can be a little a little hard to access certain parts on the motor. However, there are plenty of how-to videos online.
Not really. Whether you are looking for OEM parts or performance parts, there are plenty of websites that still sell anything you might need for your “mini Ferrari”.
Remember that this car was designed to be an affordable sports car and not a car to get you to and from work. It can be used as a daily driver thanks to Toyota’s great reliability record, but it probably wouldn’t be extremely comfortable.
How to Import a Toyota MR2
Read our ultimate guide, How to Import a Car from Japan.
Can you make this guide better? Are you a huge fan of the MR2? If so, please contact us.